Weekly News

1st May 2004

Behind-the-scenes influences exposed in new book on chemicals policy


Swedish Green MEP Inger Schörling this week used a Brussels press conference to launch a revealing new book on the influences which have gone into the steady watering down of the EU's chemicals policy, reform of which - in the form of a new system of testing and control known as REACH - is currently under debate. Alongside co-author Gunnar Lind, Schörling presented the book – entitled REACH: What happened and why? – to journalists in the European Parliament. Lind is a campaigner on environmental issues and has worked with ChemSec, the international chemical secretariat in Sweden.


Speaking at the press conference Inger Schörling said:


"The EU has been developing its chemicals policy – REACH – to increase the safety of human health and the environment. It is now time for politicians and industry to accept their responsibilities and ensure we get legislation that protects us from the most dangerous chemicals that threaten us in daily life. The chemicals industry has argued that the implementation of REACH would be too costly and too great a burden to carry. That is an argument without basis, as the cost would only be 0.05 per cent of their yearly turnover."


Gunnar Lind said:


"In the process of researching this book I have looked through hundreds of documents dating back a long time and I was surprised to see that the chemical industry has had such a strong influence on the framing of the draft REACH legislation. The US chemical industry in particular has had a major impact and, along with the Bush administration, it has intervened to successfully sabotage and delay REACH. By the time the European elections are over and a new Commission is appointed this Autumn there will only be about half of all the people left at EU-level who have previously worked on REACH. So we have written this book for the people who will make the decisions next year. It is important that they are well informed about what has happened so far. That is the purpose of this book and we hope it will be useful."


German Party of Democratic Socialists attacks government plans for national army: "Aggression rather than defence"


Germany's Party of Democratic Socialists' (PDS)  has attacked the recently announced proposals to reform the Bundeswehr (armed forces) as plans to create an "army of aggression".


The party's Foreign Policy Spokesman Wolfgang Gehrcke said “Before the Bundestag Defence Minister Peter Struck proclaimed a fundamental change in the assignment, weaponry and the nature of the Bundeswehr." It "is no longer to serve national defence; it is meant to be assigned for world-wide missions," and will become "an operative army which is seen as an instrument of German foreign policy." It is clear, Gehrke added, that "the Bundeswehr is being rearmed and regrouped for foreign operations. The defence budget is to rise again. Almost half of the troops are assigned on foreign missions. The mainstay of this army will be formed by career officers and soldiers. Conscription is on its last legs. This is not because Germany wants to disarm itself but because the redefinition of the Bundeswehr characteristics requires a different type of soldier.”


The Bundeswehr concept of the Schröder government would force Germany increasingly into world-wide military conflicts, according to Gehrcke. “Under a SPD/Green government the decisive step from a defence army to an army of aggression has been made. This Bundeswehr reform violates the Basic Law (German constitution).”


The PDS website contains some material translated into English. Go here


 Europe's Great Depression


Laszlo Andor, progressive Hungarian economist who has written a number of articles for us in the past, wrote in last week's Guardian that "East Europeans, who paid a heavy price for the free-market reforms of the 1990s, now face new burdens because of harsh EU accession terms."  Andor, author of a number of works on the transition economies, asked "What is the cause of the sudden hysteria about migrant workers from east-central Europe among the existing EU states? Is it that politicians and their advisers have looked at the income data and suddenly realised the wage gap between east and west has not narrowed in the last 15 years? Have they only now realised that the so-called market transition was not a great success - and concluded that people in the accession states cannot be anything but desperate to move to countries they have been unable to catch up with by embracing market forces? If so, they are about half right." Read his answers   here


European Parliamentary elections imminent

The European Parliament elections will be held between 10-13 June 2004. In all, 732 members of the European Parliament are to be elected from the 25 EU Member states. Go here see the details, country by country.


UK Referendum


UK Prime Minister Tony Blair faces an uphill struggle to convince voters to back the EU Constitution in a referendum according to the latest polls. Read all about it   here


Athens Olympics under the shadow of anti-Muslim racism


The Olympics in Athens this August will be the first summer games since September 11. Amid the fears about a possible terror attack, it is the Muslim community of Athens - many of whose members are actually involved in building the Olympic Village - which is bearing the brunt of a new form of racism. A budget of $820 million has been set aside to ensure security at the event. 50,000 police and troops are ready for deployment and intelligence is being provided by, among others, Israel, the US and Britain. In March, US troops participated in a drill to test anti-terrorist operations. The US has even installed radiation detectors at Greece's borders to detect smuggled nuclear material.  Read all about it here


New campaign launched to protect food and farming:



Last week new and much stricter EU labelling legislation governing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and foods produced from them came into force. Realising that we can hardly trust the authorities to enforce a law which most governments accepted only because they thought it would allow them to lift the moratorium, Greenpeace is asking for your help "to find the products containing GMOs and name & shame them for everyone to see. The more people that help to reject the products, the easier it will be to maintain our right to say NO to GMOs." Find out more here


Meanwhile,  Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) last week launched a new campaign to demand better legal protection for areas wanting to ban genetically modified (GM) crops. Initiatives to ban GM crops are now running in at least 22 different European countries.


The campaign is designed to increase pressure on the European Commission, which in January admitted that it would "be difficult to reject these attempts at establishing GM-free zones, which are driven by strong public local concern and economic considerations (such as protection of local traditional agriculture)".


Friends of the Earth Europe have launched a new website - here - to highlight the different initiatives from regions representing tens of millions of people who do not want GM Organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture.


Actions taken so far range from regions introducing local laws to ban cultivation, to public authorities lobbying both Europe and national Governments for legal protection.


The number of regions in theEU that want to ban the growing of GM crops is continuously growing. In France over 1000 town mayors support GM free zones and in the UK over 44 regions have called for special protection in their areas. More than 500 cities in Italy have also taken a position against the use of GMOs in agriculture.


Commenting on these developments, Friends of the Earth Europe's GMO Coordinator Geert Ritsema said "Local people, politicians and businesses are demanding the right to stay GM free. This is the beginning of an unstoppable movement that governments and EU institutions would be stupid to ignore. The public says no to GM foods and the only way to prevent the contamination of both our crops and countryside is to ban the cultivation of GM seeds."


New food labelling laws giving consumers better information about ingredients originating from GM crops came into force on April 18th.


The new laws first agreed in July 2003, state that:


- GM foods must be fully traceable from farm to consumer, and even foods that no longer contain genetic material derived from GM crops have to be labelled as GM if they derive from GM crops. In practice this means that on top of the foods which already had to be labelled as GM (such as sweet corn) important new food products (such as vegetable oil and sugars) now have to be labelled.


- GM animal feed now have to be labelled and be traceable.


- Food products with a GM content over 0.9% need to be labelled as follows: “This product contains genetically modified organisms.”


- Food products with a GM content lower than 0.9% do not need to be labelled if the food company can prove that the GM contamination is accidental or “technically unavoidable”


Dirty Disney don't give a Donald Duck for children's health


Recent tests have confirmed the fact that some Disney children's clothes contain toxic chemicals hazardous to human health and the environment. And we thought they only poisoned children's minds...A spokesperson for Greenpeace, which is campaigning to force the mega-corporation to accept its responsibilities, said "Disney does not think it should ensure its products are free of toxic chemicals. We need your help to pressure them to change."  Go here to find out more, and see what you can do to help.


Materials available for US presidential election


For the 2004 US Presidential Election, Syracuse Cultural Workers (a peace & justice publisher) has produced visually striking, informative tools - yard signs, buttons, stickers, posters, flags - See here

The group says that it is "committed to helping grassroots groups in the Swing States work on voter education and get out the vote. If you are a group in a Swing State, we will send you a packet of free samples such as a poster/flyer "Bush/Cheney's 31 Greatest Accomplishments", the 2004 Peace Calendar "Millions Say No to War, Yes to Peace", and other goodies.

If you live in one of the states which will decide the outcome (that's if they use the old-fashioned system, rather than letting the Republican-dominated Supreme Court decide who wins) you can request the sample packet by sending your name & postal address here